About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

1,000,000 Page Views!

Milestones are marked by numbers. In my blogging life I have written about my first 500 posts and then my first 1,000 posts. Tonight I write of having reached 1,000,000 page views over 13 years of blogging. 

I do not know how many people have read the blog. I have never tracked visitors. I do know I have readers from around the world.

As 2023 has unfolded I wondered which milestone I would reach first - 1,000,000 page views or 1,500 blog posts. As the year progressed it was clear it would be page views. This will be my 1,473rd post on the blog.

Over the years I have been intrigued by the posts which have drawn the most page views. The top 10, with links, are:

1.) Amelia Island is Camino Island with 20,300 views - After reading Camino Island by John Grisham I wrote a post about Amelia Island which inspired the setting of Camino Island. Amelia Island is a lovely island just outside Jacksonville, Florida. Grisham has a vacation home there;

2.) “N” is for Stuart Neville with 18,100 views - For a few years Australian blogger, Kerrie Smith, had a Crime Fiction Alphabet meme. One year I chose to go through the alphabet by posts about writers. I had read the Ghosts of Belfast by the Northern Ireland writer and found it a powerful reflection on the psychological consequences of “killing upon the killers”. Still I think it got most of its page views because an “N” image in the post, for quite awhile, was one of the images you found if you googled the letter “N”;

3.) Reviewing the movie adaptation of Louise Penny’s Still Life with 13,600 views - A decade ago CBC television produced a movie version of Still Life. Much as I have loved the Armand Gamache series I considered the movie no more than average. I thought Nathaniel Parker as Armand Gamache was badly cast. I could not see him as a French Canadian. My assessment that it would have been better for the format to have been a mini-series proved ill-fated. When Amazon Priime created a series last year Three Pines based upon the Penny’s books the series lasted but one season. I thought the series deserved to be renewed. I was most impressed by Alfred Molina as Gamache. He will be my image of Gamache as I read further books in the series;

4.) Danish Chestnut Dolls in Fiction and Real Life with 11,100 views - In the Danish mystery, The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup, the murderer left small figures made from chestnuts at crime scenes. Unable to find clear photos online of the “chestnut dolls” I contacted my Danish friend, Bente, who made some dolls and sent me photos which are in the post. The innocent dolls were a vivid presence at murder;

5.) Legally Speaking in Fiction and Real Life with 10,500 views - I occasionally write of my experiences as a lawyer, especially in court. This post discussed how lawyers speak in fiction and real life. Lawyers are articulate in real life but not as perfect as fictional lawyers are in speaking. I did quote the end of a closing address to juries used by famed American lawyer Gerry Spence:

Ladies and gentlemen I am about to leave you, but before I leave you I’d like to tell you a story about a wise old man and a smart-alec boy. The smart-alec boy had a plan, he wanted to show up the wise old man, to make a fool of him. The smartalec boy had caught a bird in the forest. He had him in his hands. The little bird’s tail was sticking out. The bird is alive in his hands. The plan was this: He would go up to the old man and he would say, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?” The old man would say, “You have a bird, my son.” Then the boy would say, “Old man, is the bird alive or is it dead?” If the old man said that the bird was dead, he would open up his hands and the bird would fly off free, off into the trees, alive, happy. But if the old man said the bird was alive, he would crush it and crush it in his hands and say, “See, old man, the bird is dead.” So, he walked up to the old man and said, “Old man, what do I have in my hands?” The old man said, “You have a bird, my son.” He said, “Old man, is the bird alive or is it dead?” And the old man said, “The bird is in your hands, my son.” Ladies and gentlemen of the jury my client is in yours."

6.) Redefining Success - Still Making Mistakes by W. Brett Wilson with 5,900 views - While most of my reading and most of my posts involve crime fiction I do read and write about non-fiction. Wilson’s autobiography covers the facts of his life but is more about the lessons he has learned from a life in business in Alberta. He grew up in Saskatchewan and remains proud of his home province:

Ask anyone in the Calgary corporate community and they’ll tell you: if you want to hire a trustworthy person who understands that a hard day’s work earns a fair wage, just hire someone from Saskatchewan.

He is an excellent writer whose perspective on life and business was profoundly affected by having prostate cancer;

7.) The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham with 5,000 views - Grisham’s saga on Biloxi, Mississippi published last year featuring the Marco (good guys) and Rudy (bad guys) family is a good book but it is not one of Grisham’s best and I do not consider my review one of my best. Somehow this review has attracted spammers. It attracts 1-2 spam comments almost every day. I faithfully delete them but I expect more will appear tomorrow.

8.) A Murder of Crows by David Rotenberg with 4,600 views - The title is evocative in referring to the name for a gathering of crows. The book is the second in the The Junction Chronicles trilogy. In the book synesthete, Decker Roberts, is called upon to assist in the investigation of a university graduation ceremony bombing in which 200 were killed. Roberts can tell if someone is not telling the truth. He examines hundreds of videos. The limitation to his skill is that he cannot tell whether someone not telling the truth is lying;

9.) Josef Müller - A German Catholic Hero of World War II with 4,000 views - While reading Church of Spies by Mark Riebling I learned of Müller’s remarkable life. A Bavarian lawyer he acted as a conduit between German Military Intelligence and the Vatican for Pope Pius XII. Eventually he was arrested:

On April 8, 1945 Müller was advised he would be hanged that day:

Müller prepared for death. He sank to his knees in his striped orange and gray pajamas, whispering the Our Father. Then he motioned to one of his fellow prisoners, Russian General Pyotr Privalov, and asked him to memorize a message. Knowing that the last words of the condemned sometimes reached the outside world, he told Privalov he would shout to the hangman: “I die for peace!”

Müller then walked to the gallows. What happened there is as dramatic as any work of fiction I have read. 

You will need to read Church of Spies to find out what happened.

10.) Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch with 2,800 views - I have loved Michael Connelly’s books for over 20 years. Since I started keeping track of my reading in 2000 I have read more Connelly books than any other author.

When Harry Bosch was brought to the screen in the Bosch television series I wondered who would be cast as Harry. As set out above I had been very disappointed in Nathaniel Parker as Armand Gamache.

From the first episode of Bosch I considered Titus Welliver to be Bosch. Beyond the physical image being perfect Welliver conveys Bosch’s persona:

Harry of the books has a presence. When he enters a room he is the focus. Supervisors resent the attention he draws from other officers. Welliver has that touch of swagger.

I have known but a few men who went through life unafraid. Not always physically imposing they had a mental toughness that made them virtually unbeatable in conflict. Welliver convinces the viewer he will take on anyone at any time. If he loses it will be a surprise and he will go down fighting.

I regret that my top Canadian book review, Cobra Clutch by A.J. Devlin, was 11th with 2,400 views.

I find it interesting that only 3 of 10 most viewed posts were actually book reviews. I do not know why.

I still enjoy writing posts though my pace has slowed in recent years. 

I have appreciated contacts with authors. In particular, I am proud to know a pair of Saskatchewan writers of crime fiction - Gail Bowen and Anthony Bidulka. I have enjoyed reading their books and spending time with them.

An unexpected pleasure of blogging has been making virtual friends with other bloggers. Some no longer post or are gone but others stay in contact through comments. I especially appreciate Margot Kinberg, TracyK. And Moira Redmond.

I am grateful to all the readers in the world who have come to read my blog. When I started I wondered if anyone would read the blog. A million page views fills me with joy. Best wishes to readers everywhere.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Iman of Tawi-Tawi by Ian Hamilton

(20. - 1159.) The Iman of Tawi-Tawi by Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee is called by Uncle Chang from the Philippines. An old friend of Uncle Chow Tung, he asks a favour of Ava. It is a deft approach to get her to help him with a delicate situation. Ava is out of the debt collection business and is now a wealthy woman. Offering her money would have failed. Proposing a favour is intriguing. Much of Uncle Chow’s success was built upon exchanging favours. Uncle Chang has great guanxi, influence. Only in her 30’s Ava is building personal relationships with the wealthy and powerful of the world. She has become a woman of influence.

Uncle Chang is cryptic. He wants her to come to the Philippines to look into Zakat College, an Islamic institution, on Tawi-Tawi in the southern region of Mindanao. No specifics will be available unless she comes.

Ava flies to Manila where she meets Senator Miguel Ramirez. In the complex politics of the Philippines issues a long insurgency of Muslims in Mindanao has largely been resolved by the government making a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood that gives considerable autonomy to the region. The arrangement is fragile. Many politicians and the military are ready to blow up the agreement if they can find a suitable pretext.

Ramierz has heard rumours the College is at the heart of a plan that would de-stablise the area. 

The Brotherhood wants to preserve the peace which is aiding the very poor area to gain jobs and development.

When Ava meets with two young men who work at the College she receives disturbing news that could wreak havoc across the world.

The information sets Ava criss-crossing Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Australia. 

Security services in Canada, the U.S., Jordan and Lebanon are soon engaged on a quest to find out the truth concerning the students and the iman who is educating them at Zakat College.

The book was so different from recent books in the series which were driven by business interests and intrigues. There is no money to be made but if Ava is successful there will be huge favours owed her.

I did struggle a bit with why Ava was called upon by Uncle Chang. The information could have been obtained just as easily by someone actually in Tawi-Tawi. Once basic information is acquired Ava's international skills and contacts come to the fore.

I did regret that Ava’s accounting skills played no role. The most interesting books in the series have her understanding of finance and accounting playing a major role.

Ava’s personal life has little role. The Iman of Tawi-Tawi is a classic with Hamilton setting a brisk pace against calamity albeit, without bodies until 298 pages into the book.

The book was an extended novella. The unravling of the scheme proceeded very quickly leaving little room for human interactions. I was reminded of the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker where dialogue dominated, the action was steady and the pages easily turned.

While The Iman of Tawi-Tawi challenges Ava’s psyche I hope the next book actually challenges her intellect and moves her life forward.


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

(14. - 1153.)
The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear - In October of 1941 the Blitz of London has been over for a year. Now the Nazis send some bombers most nights to just keep Londoners on edge. Young Freddy Hackett runs messages at night for Government agencies. With a Bomber’s Moon in the sky he sees two men fighting. One is killed with a knife. When he returns to the scene later the body is gone.

Maisie Dobbs continues to work in British Intelligence. She is vetting agents for the SOE (the Special Operations Executive). She decides whether an agent is suitable to be sent to Occupied Europe. It is a daunting responsibility especially when she knows a prospective agent.

What a life Maisie is living when a murder investigation is a form of distraction, almost welcome, from the process of deciding who will be sent into the night to be a part of Churchill’s plan to set Europe ablaze. 

The murder investigation butts up against intelligence operations. For the skilful wicked a war can protect them.

Scotland Yard, overwhelmed by wartime crime, makes but a cursory investigation into Freddy’s report of seeing murder. Unless Maisie and her assistant, Billy, can solve the case there will be no resolution.

The investigation takes Maisie into yet a new element of the war. She delves into the Free French forces in England. Honour is at their core. They are in an awkward position seeking to remain independent but dependent on England for everything.

Fear in wartime is real. How it is managed is often the difference between life and death:

Fear had to be handled with care, managed so it 

became a tool, not a weight.

Each character has a dominant fear. For most it involves family. 

While Maisie worries about Anna she must deal with a fear of commitment in personal relationships. It is time for a decision on Mark.

It is a powerful emotional moment when Maisie replaces the chain holding her wedding ring from the deceased James with a necklace featuring a large diamond given to her by Mark.

In a brilliant quote her friend Priscella advises her “.... I believe love must be cradled gently, as if you have something very precious in your hands that you do not want to break”.

Maisie is worn out by secrets:

Secrets. Secrets. Secrets. She sometimes felt as if she would drown under the weight of other people’s secrets …. And she feared she might lose herself in all the secrecy - it had happened before.

It is harder and harder for Maisie to keep doing “her bit”. She wants to spend more time with her adopted daughter, Anna, in the country. Each absence for work leaves her longing to be with Anna. Maisie would be happy to live on her estate full time.

Maisie provides a vivid illustration of drawing out hurt with Anna:

She lifted her hands, and placed first her left-hand against her chest, and then her right hand on top of her left. “Follow me - see what I’ve done with my hands? You can close your eyes and cradle your heart, then before you know it the pain starts to go away.”

Both love and pain can benefit from cradling.

I think Maisie has done enough. It has been 24 years since she first went to war for England. Few men and women have done more for their country. But a sense of duty cannot be switched off.

Maisie is back to using the insights of an open mind nurtured by her mentor, Maurice Blanche. She is less constrained by prejudice and cynicism that most of us. 

The Consequences of Fear is not a great mystery but it is an excellent story.


Winspear, Jacqueline – (2008) - Maisie Dobbs(Best fiction of 2008) (2008) - Birds of a Feather; (2009) - Pardonable Lies; (2011) - Messenger of Truth; (2012) - An Incomplete Revenge; (2012) - Among the Mad; (2013) - The Mapping of Love and Death; (2016) - A Lesson in Secrets; (2016) - Elegy for Eddie; (2018) Leaving Everything Most Loved; (2020) - A Dangerous Place - Part I on Maisie's life since the last book and Part II a review; (2020) - A Journey to Munich; (2021) - In This Grave Hour; (2021) - To Die But Once; (2022) - The American Agent

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder by Qiu Xiaolong

(17. - 1156.) Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder by Qiu Xiaolong - (This review is best read after reading the previous 2 books in the series - Hold Your Breath, China and Becoming Inspector Chen).

The opening sentence eliminates the uncertainty of the status of Chen:

Chen Cao, the ex-chief inspector

of the Shanghai Police Bureau, now the Director of

the Shanghai Judicial Reform Office - though

currently on "convalescent leave" - woke with a start.

I was disappointed. He was removed from the police force for being too successful. He is “promoted” to the Office for Judicial Reform and arbitrarily placed upon sick leave. Chen tries to enjoy his unexpected leave. He realizes the break was needed after dealing with so many “special cases”. He is well aware his new position is likely a prelude to dismissal after public anger over his dismissal has faded.

Chen is given a Judge Dee mystery by a visiting French writer. He is drawn into the Tang dynasty mystery involving poets, murders and a “legendary Chinese investigator”. The book echoes his life.

Unexpectedly he is approached by Old Hunter, the father of his former partner, Detective Yu. He is invited to be a consultant to the detective agency at which Old Hunter is working. While private investigating businesses are illegal there is a need for their services.

Simi, a client of the agency, wants Chen to prove Min, the owner of a private kitchen, did not murder her kitchen assistant, Qing. Simi's position is opaque.

Private house kitchens offer a dinner party for up to 8 people in a private home. A lavish exotic meal is provided. Most such kitchens have but one meal a week. The cost is very high. For one of Min’s dinner parties it is $2,000 Canadian for each guest. The Shanghai rich reserve dinner parties with her months in advance for face gained by participating is great.

Min is also a noted courtesan. Her nickname “Republican Lady” does not conform with socialist principles.

The case is bound to involve the Party elite. Chen is to be a special consultant in the background. He cannot be seen to be investigating a murder.

Subtly, Chen’s assistant, Jin, does independent research on Min using her computer connections between young Chinese.

Chen is moved when his first love, Ling, reaches out to him and encourages him to come to London. Her father is retired though senior Party cadres never fully retire.

At the same time there is a swirling public debate about a corrupt judge, Jiao, whose dalliance with young escorts has been exposed by Pang, a man adversely affected by a dishonest ruling. Pang bribed a hotel doorman to gain access to surveillance cameras. Chen points out in a public comment that the evidence was illegally obtained. The Party is happy to note when evidence is illegally obtained if it is gathered against a Party official in favour.

Jin proves to be a clever, dedicated and intuitive investigator. With Chen unable to conduct interviews she calls those present at Min’s supper, ostensibly on behalf of Chen’s office.

While Chen is accustomed to dealing with crimes in ways that minimize agitation of senior officials in Beijing, even he finds the Min case unusual. There appear to be competing factions among the Red Princes with conflicting positions on Min. The heads of Chen and this reader were spinning trying to work out what is happening in Beijing.

Chen is thoughtful and analytical as always. His future remains murky. It is hard to divine whether the senior Party authorities want to promote him or dismiss him.

I get the feeling Chen will never return to the police and will enter the private sector. He has done all he can as a police officer.

(This book also does not deal with the cliffhanger from Hold Your Breath, China. There is a disconnect between the enticement and the lack of follow up. I thought it was wrong not to deal with the twist in two subsequent books.)